Dividends of Lahore Conference
A“I feel optimistic when I see that over the past 12 months the two countries have moved fast not just to normalize relations but to remove irritants which hamper trade and economic relations.”
-Yousuf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister of Pakistan
ccording to Shahrukh Hasan, Group Managing Director, Jang Group, the people of India and Pakistan harbour no ill will towards each other. “They are acutely aware of the cost and futility of conflict and desire peaceful relations. The relations between the governments on the other hand – whether due to the baggage of history they carry, or the burden of what they see as ‘national interest’ – are in stark contrast,” therefore, some intervention was needed.
He said this was the reason why the Jang Group felt that if there was one thing it could do for Pakistan, it was to try and amicably and equitably resolve problems with India. This was not a movement that could only be started in Pakistan; it had to be mirrored by a similar sentiment and a similar commitment from India. The natural choice was The Times of India and, consequently, a logical peace process called “Aman ki Asha’ was initiated for the mutual benefit of both the countries.
Based on this understanding and convergence, the governments of both the countries, have derived greater comfort and confidence in trading concessions that are needed to fairly and equitably resolve issues and, as such, the role of Aman ki Asha is that of a facilitator.
Taking forward the ‘trade for peace’ agenda initiated with its groundbreaking Indo-Pak business conference in May 2010, Aman ki Asha organized ‘Dividends’, the Second Indo-Pak Economic Conference in Lahore, on May 7 and 8, this year in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Pakistan Business Council (PBC), Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) and the National Bank of Pakistan.
On April 18, 2012, the CII and PBC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Aman ki Asha, Jang Group and Times of India, agreeing to host annual conferences alternately in India and Pakistan. The Lahore conference was the first event under this partnership.
The Lahore conference is bound to be of greater significance against the backdrop of the recent developments in trade diplomacy. Pakistan’s decision, to grant India the ‘Most Favoured Nation status, has been described by the Indian commerce secretary Rahul Khuller as
a “game changer.”
Weeks after Pakistan opened up a longstanding barrier to Indian imports by moving to a negative list of trade items from a restrictive positive list, 45 Indian CEOs headed to Lahore to take part in ‘Dividends’. The Indian contingent was led by Adi Godrej, President Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chairman, Godrej group. Said Godrej, “We must expand on the positive sentiment between the two countries in recent months to boost trade and investments. We are striving for a meeting of minds between the two countries’ industrialists and decision makers.”
The conference program included seven sessions spread over two days in which experts from both sides participated in detailed discussions on a policy framework for Indo-Pak trade, prospects of opening up Indian markets for Pakistan, potential benefits of permanent peace, policies for attracting bilateral investment, banking relations and other key issues.
The conference laid down a roadmap for enhancing Indo-Pak economic cooperation in order to realize the trade potential. It also worked to remove misperceptions that still exist regarding opening of full-fledged trade with India.
The presence of the three Pakistani federal ministers, Dr. Hafeez Sheikh, Finance Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Minister and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Commerce Minister, depicted Pakistan’s seriousness in building stronger ties with India.
The delegates attending the conference were the best ambassadors of peace for both countries and each had an important role to play in furthering the relationship and building the foundations of durable peace.
According to Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, “The world is marching on and it is time for us to shed the baggage of the past, grab the opportunity at hand and act with an urgency to build a relationship of mutual trust. We have lost precious time and should not allow its wastage anymore.”
Praising India’s decision to allow investment from Pakistan, the Prime Minister said now Pakistan was waiting for some practical steps for removal of non-tariff barriers which had hampered exports to the Indian market.
He further said, “We have pushed the reform agenda and stayed committed to the policies of economic liberalization, deregulation and privatization, besides encouraging the private sector to play a greater role in the economy.”
“We are aware of the fact that without enhancing regional trade the country cannot realize its full potential, therefore, improved relations with India are important for us as it offers a billion-plus market to Pakistani exporters.” He said a liberal trade regime ensured flow of cheaper imports for both countries due to their geographical proximity and resultant lower freight costs.
Sharat Sabharwal, Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan, said that India and Pakistan should target $12 billion trade within next five years, asserting, “Our growing economic agenda also includes finalization of modalities of electricity trade between the two countries and trade in petroleum products.”
Sabharwal said, “We will like to carry the process of trade liberalisation forward in a manner to create a win-win situation for both sides. “We are ready to commence discussion on reducing the size of sensitive lists under SAFTA. India has also agreed to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Pakistan for which necessary procedures and requirements are being formulated.” In his address at Aman Ki Asha Economic Conference, Adi Godrej, CII President said, “Matters pertaining to FDI, non-tariff barriers, energy trade, opening of air and land trade routes between the two countries needed greater focus,” he said, and added, “Then we will be able to converge our potential to gain $10 billion bilateral trade volume by 2015.”
Asad Umar, Chairman, PBC, also expressed the view that the PBC wished improved trade ties with India and as soon barriers were removed it would be better for citizens of both countries, and that “we will really be entering into a meaningful relationship”.
He, however, expressed concern that Pakistani textile products were not given attention by the Indian side, which had focused on textile exports from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and added that unless India resolved the matter, the Pak-India peace initiative could not bear tangible results.
A delegation of the Indian stock market visited the Lahore Stock Exchange, where they shared their own experiences of demutualization at a luncheon hosted by the Lahore Stock Exchange for the visiting dignitaries of the Indian Capital Market.
The delegation comprised Joseph Massey, CEO, MCX Stock Exchange, India and Chairman, South Asian Federation of Exchanges (SAFE), Dr. Dalbir Singh, Chairman, Delhi Stock Exchange (DSE), and other directors of DSE, Justice Vinod Kumar, Mahendra Nath, Vijay Kumar and Anuj Chowdhry. The delegation held discussions with the Board of Directors and members of the Committee overseeing demutualization at LSE.
Aftab Ahmed Chaudhary, Managing Director, LSE, in his address said the timing of the visit could not have been better as the Exchanges in Pakistan were in the process of demutualization. “We can learn a great deal from the experience of Delhi Stock Exchange and MCX in a postdemutualization environment.”
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani addressing the conference.
From left: Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry,
Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan, Adi Godrej, President, CII, Imran Aslam, CEO, Geo TV, Shahrukh Hasan, Managing Director, Jang Group and
Amin Hashwani, Co-Chairman India-Pakistan CEOs’ Business Forum.